The Belfry

  by m. james moore   There had always been a rather peculiar door in by basement that I'd never gotten around to looking behind until just the other day. Since then, I am perplexed as to whether I would rather have not looked behind it, or whether I actually did.

  I bought the house nearly three months ago, hoping to find serenity in a countryside home, away from the hubbub of city problems. When the realtor was giving me a tour, which didn't even seem necessary when I had already decided I'd liked it from the start, we trekked down to the large basement. I was shown the custom woodworking bench the previous owner had constructed himself and would be leaving behind, as well as various closets and storage areas in the rather spacious underdwelling. I didn't ask about the door, assuming it was simply another closet, and most all closets look the same inside. The abundance of other storage areas around that particular level didn't leave me with concern over whether it could store a hummer or an ironing board.

  Moving in, I didn't even open that door to peek inside as to whether the previous gentleman, an older fellow, perhaps left something behind by accident. Now I suppose that he did leave it behind quite on purpose.

  Being fairly well settled in and comfortable in my new living quarters, I was reading the local eight-page newspaper when Charlie Brown spoke to me. Not in a manner of hearing a voice, but that it got me to daydreaming, and reminded me of the basement door somehow, in the meandering sort of way that my brain works. I could be thinking of pineapple popcicles one minute and somehow end up in Paraguay drwing purple pigeons with a pink permanent pen the next.

  Anyhow, I meandered down the creaking basement staircase and, slipping the lightswitch on, laid eyes upon the door that had never really invaded my mind until then, and boy did it that day. Maybe.

  Even turning the squealing knob gave me a surprise, as I could hear an echo into a cavern a thousand miles past that door, for all I knew. Not quite a cavern, but stone indeed. A stone spiral staircase that led down. Down where, I'm not sure, and still not, even though I am speaking to you now quite assuredly, mostly, that I did reach the bottom. I have not yet been back up it, either. That is, probably not.

  It was quite dark, and there were, much to my disappointment, no torches along the wall like those old castles. Why I was expecting torches, who knows. I grbbed a battery-powered torch from the nearby woodbench, swung the door wide to prip it begind a rather hefty toolbox to keep it from closing shut. Not that the light from the basement would help much -- byt the timje I'd gotten around two full spirals there was no mere mention that I was even below my new house. The flashlight was quite helpful, thought, but was limited.

  I couldn't see around more than a third of one spiral that continually and moved down with no break, so after about ten minutes of slowly moving down, much less the two hour descent that I made, could I have any inkling of what cardinal direction I was facing at any given moment.

  For all I knew, some ogre could be waiting for me at the bottom, and I couldn't see far enough ahead of me around the constant left-turning monotony to even react soon enough, much less have really that much energy to climb all the way back up, trying to pay attention that I put both feet on actual steps, worring over whether I should turn the light off to keep it from following me, or whther there might be a second ogre that had come in through a second doorway above that I would be inevitably running toward, in which case simply staying put would only lengthen the time I would still be in one rather pleasant piece. Pleasantly solid, but not necessarily preasantly sane.

  Anyhow, I didn't see any ogres, yet, and continued down. I shine the flashlight at my pocketwatch and realized the time. I didn't quite feel like going down much further, so I decide to head back up. I would venture down again sometime that week after preparing a knapsack with some food and water should it really be that much further down. As I began back up, I thought to leave something perhaps on the stairway to mark how far down I'd been. I put one of those new gold dollar coins I'd had in my pocket onto that very step that I'd stopped my descent, and after a moment to breathe deeply, began the arduous voyage back up to my house.

  I didn't travel but more than perhaps a few full turns before there was the door. I looekd at my watch again to make sure I hadn't misread it, and sure enough, it had been 2 hours of going down and to the left. Surely I couldn't have been doing down that slow only to make it back up in perhaps seven minutes at the maximum. I am past middle age, and not that healthy.

  It didn't occur to me that perhaps this wasn't the right door, as it was closed. I never remembered passing a door on the way down, as surely I would have reacted and remembered differently to something as brown and familiar as this door was instead of consistently gray stone ever-curving leftward. This I began to think about after I'd already opened it and sepped in. Or out.

  I was back in my basement, but entereg from a different door, which was a closet that I kept my camping equipment in. I closed the door and walked to the middle of the basement not thinking too particularly clearly from my long sweat-inducing descent, when I realized I was walking TOWARD the door I wa supposed to have come out of just now, as I hadn't turned. I looked back at the camping closet, looked back at the propped-open door, then back at the camping closet. I walked to it and opening it, found camping equipment. No staircase, winding or otherwise. Had I somehow shut myself in the camping closet and dreamed up this nonsens and come out of it? The propped open door was still propped open, and when I gazed inside and pointed the light therein, there were the same steps leading down I'd set foot in those hours ago. I pulled the toolbox from its propping position and closed the door. I opened it again, to see if it was a closet again, but it was still a staircase. Odd.

  I went back upstairs, and went to sleep on my bed from weariness. No matter how it is, going up or down, spiral staircases, metal or stone, is strenuous movement. I fell asleep wishing there had been at least a sign of some sort, or even a handrail, as there were neither.

  I woke up the next morning, having slept roughly fifteen hours according to my pocketwatch. I went to the kitchen as usual, but this time feeling more achey than norma, and recalled the previous day's adventure. I'd discarded all those weird things toward the end, about coming in thr wrong door, or out the right door, or whatever it was that I did. I assmed I'd simply been too tired on the long journey up that I'd assuredly forgotten most of it, and the door merel came up sooner than I expected. This was a mistake.

  Stretching my weary muscles, I soon left more energized after a hearty breakfast, and gathered up a few things to take with me in a secondtrip down the twisting tunnel. I began to wonder about some things while I wass packing a lunch, such as, how old is this thing? And who could have madfe it? Surely not that last owner. It would have taken generations... or perhaps a really strong and powerful ogre. No, mustn't think of such things -- I'd never find out where the stairs led if I kept up such talk. I wondered if the last fellow even knew.

  Satchel on my back with enough for two meals, extra batteries, and a Thermos with fresh coffee, I grabbed my flashlight and headed down to the basement. To my amazement, there was a sign on the door. Now I was positive there had not been a sign there before, or I would have remembered. But considering the things I had chosen not to remember then, perhaps there really had been a sign there and I had just dismissed it. Anyway, it read simply, "FROM."

  The obvious question would be to ask "FROM where?" or find out where "TO" is now, which only encouraged me -- in that same sort of encouragement helpless women in movies seem to have to find ot what is in that upstairs room where strange things have been reported, like say, demon wolves or curiously independent marionettes with a rather healthy appetite for flesh.

  I proped the door open again, and set off downward.

  Down, and down down down, I went. Down de-down down, down-oh-doodle- dee-doo-down-down I went down. I looked at my watch to find it had been an hour and fifteen minutes before I found the dollar coin I'd left. I'd descended much faster this time, since I knew, or figured, there'd be just the same old gray stone with uneven surfaceamd old well-worn steps as it had been the last day I tried. I sat at that step and took out a sandwich from my satchel and ate.

  I'm not sure why I wasn't afraid at that moment. I was actually at the border of the unexplored. I had been confident on my descent so far this second time, but up to this point I had not yet explored, I should have been more wary of what was to come. After my sandwich and a quick swig of coffee, I continued down and down and down again. Not too long after the sandwich, I noticed the darkness seemed to be becomeing less dark. My eyes had become so well adjusted to the darkness that I hardly needed the flashlight anymore, so I turned it off. It became lighter and lighter the lower I went, and I began to slow my pace a bit more in anticipation of what I was coming upon.

  There was in fact, another door down there, that was cracked open a bit and what appeared to be sunlight shining through it. On the door was a similar sign remarking "BEHIND" which I couldn't quite figure out. I noticed the staircase still continued downward around the left-turning curve as usual, but this strange door was opening into the wide center column -- that is, to the left of the path instead of the outside wall on the right. I opened the door wider, releasing a rush of blinding sunlight. I stepped inside, or outside as it seemed with the sunlight, and the door closed begind me. I went back to check it, and it was locked. I was then convinved that there had either been someone just down the way who had sealed me in this trap, or someone that had somehow completely silently followed me down from some other door that looked like rock that I'd passed over. In the room, if it could be called a room, were four windows in a half-octagon formation through which the sunlight shone. They did not have glass in them, but were merely open air and perhaps twice my width.

  As I neared them I realized I wasn't at ground level. Not that I didn't already know that from having traveled down two and a half hours at a brisk pace down a stone sprial staircase that started in my basement in Minnesota, but that I wason, on the contrary, way up high. I was in some sort of tower, a belfry perhaps. Down below was a delightfully pleasant scene of an apple orchard with men working in it, anjd children playing nearby in a schoolyard, ass if I'd dropped right into 1802. Off in the distance was a mountain range, the slight breeze was refreshing, and the sunlight energizing.

  I was squinting at the door at the base of my belfy, and realized that the laughter had stopped. I looked down to where the children were, and they were looking at me. I was probably at least seven stories up, so they were fortunate to even see me, but how often they chcked to see if anyone was in the tall narrow white tower out in the middle of a heavenly apple orchard I'll never know. Or why there was a tower in an apple orchard. It wasn't like there were any bells to ring.

  One of the men saw the kids, then looked up at me and ran to a rather large tree. I was trhying to see what he was doing there, as I moved from window to window hoping for a better angle, when the door handle behind me shook and it opened slightly.

  I opened the door wider and stepped out, or in. I was in the same dull gray stone staircase once again. The door slammed closed behind me, and I fumbled for my flashlight. Flicking it on and lighting up the pitch black descending corridor yet again, I could now hear something. It wasn't coming from behind the door I'd just emerged, but from further down the spiral. A low growl, perhaps. It was enough to send me on my way back up, with a much faster pace that I had descended.

  I had gone up perhaps 3 full spirals it seemed when the stairs abruptly halted and I fell forward, missing my footing I was expecting. I tried to reach for something ahead, and thought I felt something furry, but I fell out of reach of its grasp. I saw the basement door ahead and felt something reaching for my shoe heels and scurried up toward it and closed it quick after I was inside, or outside, slumping to the floor in relief. There was a thump on the door of something hitting it from the other side, and the sign fell off and landed in my lap. This time it read, "TO". There was that low growl again coming from the other side, so I went to the camping closet and retrieved my shotgun. I put a few shells in it and a few in my pockets and headed for the staircase door, which to my surprise was already open again. As I neared it, some sort of wind was sucking me nearer and nearer, and I couldn't break away from it, as if some giant beast had its mouth up to the door and was inhaling, but all I could see was the staircase. I began firing rounds into the hallway to stop whatever was doing this, to no effect. I lost my footing and flew through the door, it slamming behind me without my flashlight. Instead of hitting the gray stone floor, though, I just kept falling. I fired random shots in every direction, frantically reloading from my pockets, but continued falling. Then I woke up. I think.

  It was a dream. Maybe. I sat up in the bed for a minute, and thought of something. I went downstairs to find the same "FROM" sign there, and pressed my ear to it, and heard the same low growl. For some sanity- forsaking reason I decided to open it, and there was the hot water heater making a strange noise. No staircase, no stone walls, no infinite shadows.

  Closing the door, I noticed the sign had vanished. I locked the door securely, and pushed the toolbox in front of it so it couldn't be opened again without a real effort. Then I began packing.

  The End